Villarreal defender Eric Bailly has completed a medical ahead of a move to Manchester United, according to Sky sources.
With a host of top clubs interested, the fee is likely to be approaching £30m for the Ivory Coast international.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 22-year-old who could become one of Jose Mourinho’s first Manchester United signings…
Bailly joined Espanyol at 17 and after work permit delays and a season playing for the club’s B-team in Spain’s third tier, he made his debut for the senior side in October 2014. After only four starts – including a 5-1 defeat to Barcelona – he joined Villarreal in a £4.3m deal in January 2015.
The switch was agreed while Bailly was midway through playing the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament that Ivory Coast eventually won on a penalty shootout. The defender, the youngest player in Herve Renard’s squad having only made his international debut the previous month, kept his nerve to convert his spot kick.
After a slow start to life at Villarreal, Bailly impressed in the 2015/16 campaign as the club made it back into the Champions League with a top-four finish. Villarreal also reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, although Bailly missed the second leg of the defeat to Liverpool through injury.
Bailly unquestionably has the physical attributes needed to thrive in the Premier League. He is quick and strong, making him particularly formidable in one-on-one situations. He was dribbled by less often than any other regular centre-back at a top-four club in Spain – that includes Diego Godin, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique.
Alongside Victor Ruiz in the Villarreal defence, Bailly formed a strong partnership that was a key factor in the team’s successful season. He started as the team kept clean sheets against Atletico Madrid (twice), Real Madrid and Liverpool, suggesting an ability to cope against quality opposition.
There have been low points too. Liverpool fans, in particular, will have revelled in the sight of former player Fernando Torres making Bailly look foolish in dispossessing him to score in a game between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal last year and the incident did highlight the improvements required with the ball at his feet.
There are question marks too about Bailly’s discipline – Villarreal boss Marcelino called an October sending off against Celta Vigo “absurd”. He was carded in 13 games out of 21 early in the 2015/16 season, but there are signs of progress as well – Bailly was not booked once in his final 13 appearances.
“It is an interesting signing and due to his attributes I fully understand why Manchester United are interested in the player,” says Terry Gibson, the former United forward and Sky Sports’ La Liga expert.
“Bailly is a fast, tall, athletic and strong central defender, who is particularly good when faced with one-on-one situations. When in possession he likes to run out from the back with the ball and has even looked comfortable in these situations when he has played as a right-back for Villarreal, venturing forward and not looking out of place in attacking play.
“He does need to improve the quality of his passing, which at times can be inaccurate and poorly weighted, but this should be possible given time and the right coaching.
“Bailly is another example of the astute work of Villarreal in the transfer market. The strange thing is that despite losing Bailly and Gabriel Paulista before him to the Premier League, and making huge profits, they will still have managed to retain the services of their first-choice central defensive pairing of Mateo Musacchio and Victor Ruiz.
“Not bad business indeed.”